Review: Arcadian

‘Arcadian’ is a dystopian monster movie that packs an impressive amount into its lean runtime, leaning on strong performances to compliment some unique creature design, culminating in a coming-of-age drama with bite.

The film opens at the end of the world. A weary Nicholas Cage makes his way along a ruined fortified wall, above it a desolate wasteland that would have been a vast populated city. As the camera work tracks up and over, we see him return home to his rural farmstead to be reunited with his two sons, a pair of lads that represent both brawn and intellect. They will need it to, as when night falls their modest abode will become besieged by monsters as mysterious as they are deadly.

The film has a big emphasis on its heart and much of the film centres around the survival of the brothers predominantly, along with father Cage and another family, offering a snapshot as to how humans have adapted to life at the collapse of civilisation.

There’s a simplicity to the film’s world, with the characters struggling to survive on the basic necessities, adhering to a small, yet pivotal set of rules to survive not only against the elements and dwindling supplies, but against a relentless enemy of which little is known. There is technology present, but only that essential to survival is shown to be operational, and with vagaries around just why civilisation has collapsed known by its populus it’s a stripped back and primitive world, putting emphasis on both the vulnerability and isolated nature of life on this harsh frontier.

Whilst Cage lends his star power in limited supply, there is an array of strong performances which give gravitas to the films intended drama. Whilst the film is undoubtably a creature feature, there is a heavy emphasis on the development of the boys maturity, as, after their father is injured, they must step up and take charge. It’s quite a journey to be honest, and whilst the monsters provide a sufficient spectacle as required, I’m going to be honest and say the films quiet and more heartfelt moments are just as compelling.

With regards to the film’s creatures, well, they are slightly harder to define. Taking elements from pretty much every creature there is and combining them into some nightmarish chimera of sorts, the monsters take on a number of different forms throughout the movie, admittedly some better than others.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the scene which introduces the monster for the first time is something of a masterclass, as the creatures elongated limb silently reaching out of the darkness towards its sleeping victim really got the hairs tingling. Given the mystery surrounding every other element of the characters plight, this scene only built on the vulnerability and introduced the films antagonist as something out of a nightmare.

In the scenes that follow things are not quite as subtle, and whilst we rarely see the monsters ‘full frontal’, they mostly look like a cross between a bug and a dog, with its oddly rapidly snapping teeth looking like something out of a computer game rather than something rational. The creatures lack of definition, and versatility of form, certainly helps stop the film from becoming generic and predictable, as the creature attacks take on numerous guised within the films different environments and set-pieces.

The effects look really good for the most part, and whilst the creature design is clearly a work of absolute fantasy, their mutations and adaptability are certainly conceivable within the realms of the film’s apocalyptic setting.

Admittedly, like most monster movies, the subtly can only last so long, and the films final action sequence perhaps takes the concept a little too far with the creatures merging together like a final-form boss, chasing down a car as a giant flaming monster wheel – its absurd as it sounds!

Overall, I really enjoyed ‘Arcadian’ for what it was. A perfectly paced, well-acted and imaginative creature flick. The performances really brought the world to life, and the creatures provided the threat. Perfect popcorn horror.

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